Sunday, January 06, 2013

Angel Policy Confusion

I have expressed my interest in starting up an Etsy shop to sell some of my paper crafts. First major stumbling block: coming up with a name. Honestly, I didn't think it would be this hard! It's just something that reflects me and what a potential customer thinks he'd find in my shop as well as a name that doesn't already exist. I'll continue to mull it over as that's not what I wanted to address.

It's my second "major" stumbling block. (In quotes because it's not really major as in preventative but major in that it's freakin confusing to figure out!) My second block seems to be Angel Policies and Copyrights. I use a lot of rubber stamp images in my work. I love to use them, color them, create scenes with them, make backgrounds with them, and just stamp the hell out of them. I use rubber stamps because they are images that I can't draw! I think I've mentioned that my original art skills are very limited. Doodling and stick figures is about all I can manage. It's a sad state of affairs when I try to draw a cat or dog...or any quadraped...because they all look the same: a lump of playdoh with 4 stick legs and some ears! Rubber stamps allow me to make the lovely cards I like without having to know how to draw all those images.

Ah, but here's the rub: what's the copyright on those images? Someone, somewhere has designed these images...some artist. Who am I to take their art and slap it on a card to sell? Am I ripping off the artist? Here's where the Angel Policy comes in.

An Angel Policy is created by the manufacturer of the stamp and determines how the image may be used and distributed if it is going to be sold. (I have yet to see an angel policy set for personal use. I mean, what's the point of buying a rubber stamp if you can't use it, right? So all of the this stuff is linking back to selling a product for profit.) Thing is that there is no general RULE about an Angel Policy. EVERY manufacturer has a different policy and some of them hardly constitute my definition of the point of the policy.

Here's the way I understand an Angel Policy. The point of the policy is to grant limited liscense to consumers to use the artwork of the manufacturer's stamps. Since some stamp images may be copyrighted, the policy allows crafters like myself to still use the stamps in artwork that we sell without violating copyright law. It seems pretty straight-forward yet as I began to research I just got more and more confused.

Here's one of my first confusions:
This article states that Angel Policies aren't even enforcable by law! That they have no legal substance. When I first read it, it made sense. A rubber stamp is a tool. It's purpose and intent is make mulitple images of the same thing! How can a manufacturer of rubber stamps tell you how to use those images and for what purposes?
But then I think, a lot of images are from artists or designers that do it for a living. They design original pieces. That image would then be copyrighted. So if it's copyrighted, then the manufacturer CAN tell me how I can or can't use the image. So I tend to view the Angel Policy as a protection of artwork. So I see the Angel Policy as dealing more with Copyright than with licensing. The Angel Policy allows me to use the stamp in a commercial application because the artist (copyright holder) has agreed to let me as proved by the fact that I paid for the stamp.

Then, I see another answer that basically says, it's super hard to copyright a rubber stamp image! And that's because some things just aren't copyright-able. Like this:
1. imagery published before 1923
2. simple shapes or geometric imagery
3. short phrases or single words
While this is good to know, I don't think lawyers know much about rubber stamps. There are a lot of rubber stamps that are DESIGNED by artists. While the art is copyrighted, is the stamp image? It must be, right? If an artist makes an original painting and then sells it, it doesn't give the buyer the right to reproduce it on a scanner and sell the copies. So if the artist makes an image and "sells" it to the rubber stamp factory, all the images from all those rubber stamps are still under that copyright, right? So when I SELL my greeting card with the rubber stamp image prominently on it, I'm only violating a copyright if the manufacturer doesn't have an Angel Policy that grants me permission to sell the image.

Soooo, Angel Policies are good for crafters who want to sell their creations. BUT if I need an Angel Policy in order to create my own product, where does my artwork come in? I mean, if I collage a bunch of different images onto a canvas and sell it, should I be worried about all the copyrights on all those images? Like if I used images out of magazines or from catalogs or promotional materials or rubber stamps colored in with markers? Doesn't the NEW product have a life of it's own? The greeting card is the product I'm selling, not the stamp image alone. So I'm not in violation of anyone's copyright because I'm not selling their artwork...I'm selling mine having used theirs as a piece of it.

Do you see where MY CONFUSION is coming in? It's like going around in a circle...
I've even heard things like, if you change an image a certain percentage, it's no longer copyrighted, it's considered a new image. I've heard that that's bull. I've heard that fonts can be copyrighted. I've heard that that's bull. I've searched for stuff on-line and can't seem to find anything more current than August of last year and that was only regarding ONE stamp company's policy. The legal stuff was older than that!


So basically, I've made a few decisions regarding this whole rigamaroll.
1. I will follow Angel Policies of manufacturers. Whether it's enforcable or not, bull or not, I feel that the spirit of the Angel Policy is to protect designers from having their work stolen and profited from without their consent.
2. I will NOT buy rubber stamps from companies who's Angel Policies are too much to ask of me. For instance, I'm not going to buy any Hero Arts Stamps unless they meet one of the three criteria for a "un copyright-able image" as I stated above. Hero Arts has an Angel Policy but this policy states that you may only sell your products in a LOCAL area. I assume that to mean, "no on-line selling". That means, those aren't any good to me. I will also not be buying any more Inkadinkadoo stamps. (And I've got a boat load of these already in my collection!) The parent company, EK Success, has some kind of permission form you need to submit before selling. Screw that! I'll keep the ones that I consider too generic to actually be copyrighted and get rid of the rest.
I wonder if any stamp companies would read this and reconsider...
3. I WILL spend my money at companies that have a generous Angel Policy with few restrictions. A lot of these companies are the smaller manufacturers. Those that would love to have their stamps put into artwork and spread around for the nation to see. Lawn Fawn, 100 Proof Press, Lost Coast Designs, Clear Art Stamps have policies that I can live with. Even Stampin Up has an Angel Policy I can live with...I can put a stamp on the back of my product to say where the imagery came from. In fact, I don't mind doing that for every stamp I use whether they want me to or not.
4. I will FIND and UNDERSTAND the Angel Policy BEFORE I buy any new stamp. This will not be easy. Angel Policies are not easy to find. They are usually hidden on websites and on-line retailers are certainly not going to know them for everything they sell. If the Angel Policy or copyright information is not readily available, I will OPT OUT of a purchase in favor of those companies who make that information accessible and easy to find. If a company can't state in clear language the limits (or lack thereof) on their products, I don't see why I should have faith that they put forward a quality product.

I'm currently asssembling my lists. Just like Santa: Naughty and Nice. My rubber stamps are TOOLS. I use them to create new works. I do not sell the image alone or untouched. While I think that excudes me from the spirit in which these restrictive "angel" policies were put into place, I won't rock the boat. If a company says I can only sell 36 items made with a single rubber stamp image, I'll try to keep track of that. But that's too bad...because the more work I have to do, the less likely I am to buy a rubber stamp from you. I'll buy a stamp that doesn't need me to account for every product I make.
And so far, I've found quite a few companies who are excited to have my business and encourage my artform whatever it may be.

"If you want something handmade, make it by HAND."  ---Jackbear Stamps


  1. This was an interesting read, and I agree with you. Thank you for sharing!

  2. This was an interesting read, and I agree with you. Thank you for sharing!

  3. 3 years laters and your post came up as I am doing research on the same thing, but using it very differently. Thank you for the post, it made a lot of sense. The current company that I sell for has one of the most generous Angel policies I have ever seen so I was so shocked to see other companies have such strict ones! Hope you have been successful!

  4. Your post popped up when I searched for a company's angel policy. Well said. I've been selling on Etsy for 8 years and use rubber stamps in my creations a lot (maybe even always??). I've flipped the big ol' middle finger to several companies as well when their policies are too restrictive. Totally get what you're saying about artist's original designs though. I hope your venture ended up being a success!

  5. Great post. I agree with you and I too avoid buying products from companies whose angel policies are too strict. Don't they realize that without folks like us who create unique handmade items for our small businesses, their own sales would dwindle? I applaude the companies that give us the freedom to sell our creations using their stamps... it is a win-win situation as far as I am concerned.